Just a Pakeha

Many years ago – in fact I can tell you exactly how many years – I was eleven years old. So it was 60 years ago. I was a student at the Te Reinga primary school. Te Reinga is a small rural community, 34 kilometres north of Wairoa, on the east coast of New Zealand. Where the Ruakaturi and Hangaroa Rivers meet, just above the spectacular water falls, that’s Te Reinga. The settlement holds a special place in Maori myths and legends. The cave beneath the falls is the home of the female Maori God, Hinekorako or goddess of the Ngati Hine Hika of Te Reinga.

The Te Reinga School had 80 students and 3 teachers, one of whom was my mother. I was the sole “pakeha” student in the school. My mother claims she first realised how well we had been accepted into the community when a car drove past on the main road outside the school. That was an uncommon event at Te Reinga. Sufficiently uncommon that we all peered out the window to identify the passer-by. My mother asked the class, “Who was that?”

“Oh, just a pakeha,” came the reply. It was a seminal moment. Clearly we had been accepted. The guy driving past was just a pakeha, but we were community, strangers no longer.  It was a proud and warm moment.

I was reminded of that event yesterday. I have mentioned before the North Shore Hospital clinic I visit. Goodness knows how the New Zealand health service would survive without the support of nurses from the Philippines, Korea and India. They certainly do a fantastic job of keeping me up and running. Their orders of what I’m allowed to do and not allowed to do come thick and fast. Health is not their only speciality. Today I made the mistake of suggesting that God may be female. After all the New Zealand Prime Minister and the Governor General are female, perhaps the boss of the universe was of the same gender. My nurse was horrified. The bible called God, the “Father”. How could God possibly be female? I gave up the debate. Clearly the boss of the clinic was not going to be distracted by my heresy.

But back to my pakeha story. I discovered today that another nurse from the Philippines, Jacque, is getting married on the 16 December 2019. Relatives and friends are flying in from the United States and the Philippines. An orchard in Kumeu has been booked for the ceremony and the reception. A priest will officiate. It sounds like a grand occasion.

I was interested to find out more. Jacque had met her future husband in an Auckland coffee shop two years ago. “What did you say to him?” I asked.

“Oh, no he spoke to me,” she exclaimed, clearly disapproving of the idea that she had initiated the contact.

“Did you know?” she asked, “That I am the only nurse left in this department that is not yet married?”

“Well you certainly need to fix that,” I facetiously replied. “Is he from the Philippines as well?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she replied, “He is a pakeha.”

So there you have it. What a super job Jacque is doing caring for people like me. What a fantastic job she has done accepting New Zealand as her home. And she is marrying a pakeha. I could not be happier. New Zealand is a better place for her presence here. And that too will improve for her on the 19 December when she marries her pakeha. I wish them both well.

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